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Fukushima fishermen angry at environment minister's remarks on plan to dump nuclear plant water into Pacific

JIJI, Reuters, Kyodo

Fishery industry stakeholders in Fukushima Prefecture expressed anger over Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada’s remarks Tuesday that Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. will have to dump radioactive water from its destroyed Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant directly into the Pacific Ocean.

The remarks are “thoughtless, in light of his position,” said Tetsu Nozaki, head of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations. “I want calm discussions to be held,” he said, noting that a relevant government committee is continuing to discuss how to dispose of the water.

Nozaki has consistently voiced opposition to the release into the sea of the water from the nuclear power station.

Since the plant was crippled by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, Tepco has collected more than 1 million tons of contaminated water from the cooling pipes used to keep fuel cores from melting.

The water is currently stored in tanks at the power plant site, but the utility says it will run out of space by 2022.

“The only option will be to drain it into the sea and dilute it,” Harada told a news conference.

Harada was responding to questions inviting him to reflect on his work as a minister on his last day before a planned Cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday.

“The whole of the government will discuss this, but I would like to offer my simple opinion,” he said. A final government decision on disposal of the tainted water is pending a report from an expert panel.

Harada did not say how much water he thought would need to be discharged into the ocean.

Tepco was not in a position to decide what to do but would follow the policy once the government made a decision, a spokesman for the utility said.

Any green light to dump the contaminated water into the sea, however, could anger neighbors such as South Korea, which summoned a senior Japanese Embassy official last month to explain how the country would deal with the liquid.

“It’s wrong to assert that ‘this is the only available option’ at a time when discussions are going on at the government commission,” said Takayuki Yanai, an official of a fishery cooperative that is involved in the operation of the Onahama fish market in the city of Iwaki in Fukushima.

The fish market sells fish caught in trial operations off Fukushima.

Prices of fish at the market have been gradually rising back to the levels prior to the 2011 nuclear disaster, according to Yanai.

If the Fukushima No. 1 plant water is released into the sea, “safety measures we have taken and our sales promotion efforts would be shattered instantly, and our businesses will be destroyed,” he said.

In a related move, the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations urged the minister to withdraw the remarks in question.

“The remarks’ impacts are immeasurable, stoking concerns among local fishery industry people and spreading harmful rumors,” it said.

Ties between the East Asian nations are already at a low ebb following a compensation dispute over wartime forced labor.

Apparently with South Korea in mind, Harada said, “A country may have an opinion, but it is important to explain about the situation with our best intentions.”

Coastal nuclear plants commonly dump into the ocean water that contains tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that is hard to separate and is considered to be relatively harmless.

Tepco, which also faces opposition from local fishermen, admitted last year that the water in its tanks still contained contaminants other than tritium.

Earlier this month, government officials told a meeting with embassy officials in Tokyo that they were still considering options for handling contaminated water at the Fukushima plant.

Asked by one of the participating embassy officials about the timing of the panel’s decision, officials said such timing had not yet been set, according to a media briefing held after the meeting.

The meeting for diplomats was attended by 27 embassy officials from 22 countries and regions, including South Korea and the United States. No protests or demands were made by the participating diplomats, according to government officials.